Spoilt for choice in Waiariki, Rotorua
If you're explaining, you're losing. It's an old political adage, but if recent polls are to be believed, it's one Maori Party leader and Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell looks like disproving.
He's had a lot of explaining to do too, thanks largely to Internet-Mana Waiariki candidate Annette Sykes, who has jumped on discontent about the National/Maori Party relationship to attack Flavell.
"Waiariki voters are overwhelmingly telling me that a vote for the Maori Party is a vote for National, an outcome that nobody wants," said Sykes.
"Many who voted Maori Party at the last election will not be voting for them this time because they want to change the government and know that the Maori Party are most likely to support John Key." While Sykes' line of attack at recent Waiariki candidate debates seems to be hitting a nerve, a recent Maori Television Reid Research Poll found 50 per cent of Waiariki voters would vote for Flavell, against 21 per cent for Sykes.
Flavell, for his part, is bullish. "I have held the Waiariki seat for nine years and I am absolutely confident that I have what it takes to retain it," he said.
While acknowledging one of Sykes' main avenues of attack, he was withering in his response.
"We are used to being criticised about our relationship with National and it usually comes from people who cannot understand the imperative value of being in a relationship with the governing party, whether it be National or Labour." Flavell said doing what is right isn't always popular, but maintained a seat at the top table was essential for Maori to have a strong, independent voice.
"The fact of the matter is that you don't achieve anything as a minor party if you are not prepared to work with the government of the day," he said.
"We are willing to work with either Labour of National, and the point of difference between us and Mana is that both Labour and National are prepared to work with the Maori Party." For Sykes' however, there's only one poll that counts.
"The one on election day, that's the one I'm focusing on." She also criticised the methodology of the poll, citing Census 2013 data to note that in today's mobile age, more than 30 per cent of Waiariki voters' do not have access to a landline. "We've commissioned our own professional poll from an independent company that used both landlines and online questionnaires and it provided a very different picture, that there's not much between myself and Te Ururoa and that support for Te Ururoa has gone down." While a lot of the focus on Waiariki has centred on Flavell and Sykes', there are two other contenders in the race.
Labour candidate Rawiri Waititi, who polled 17 per cent support, and NZ Independent Coalition's Pat Spellman a distant fourth with 2 per cent.
Waititi believes a mood exists among Waiariki voters for change, and that he's ideally placed to profit from voters turned off by Flavell, but unwilling to commit to Sykes' and the Dotcom circus.
"It does put us in a good position, because if they [the voters] want change, the only change they're going to get is from a Labour-led Government," he said.
"The only candidate that's going to affect change is going to be me, not Te Ururoa, not Annette." Amazingly, the Waiariki battle isn't the area's only election tussle, and the battle for the Rotorua seat comes with additional celebrity stardust.
Incumbent National MP Todd McClay is facing a challenge from Labour candidate and former television host Tamati Coffey, with New Zealand First's Fletcher Tabuteau, Conservative Party candidate Michael Davidson and Act Party's Lyall Russell - the man who doesn't want your candidate vote.
While it would take something of a political earthquake for Tabuteau to take the seat, his chances of securing a list place look good at fourth on the party list. Lyall, to his credit, is at least pragmatic.
"There's really no shot I'm going to be your MP. I'm going to tell everyone they should vote for Todd and give their party vote to Act."
As the last candidate to throw his hat in the ring, Davidson remains something of a mystery, even if his likely placing is clear - attempts to contact him via the Conservative Party having been unsuccessful.
Coffey faces something of a challenge to unseat McClay, who secured the seat with a 5065 majority in 2008, rising to 7351 in 2011, but the former political science student turned TV presenter turned prospective MP knows history can repeat itself.
"Steve Chadwick took the seat off Max Bradford who had a big margin and if it happened once, it can happen again," he said.
Unsurprisingly, McClay is also confident ahead of the September 20 election day, and dismissed suggestions facing off against the media savvy Coffey represented a different type of challenge.
"This election seems similar to the last two where Steve Chadwick was a very good, very well-liked and accomplished local MP with strong political credentials. If anything, this year support for National seemed stronger on the ground." While Coffey is positive on his campaign, and the wider prospects for Labour nationally, he forecasts stormy weather ahead for the Maori Party.
"This election could well be the end of the Maori Party," he said.
Grim, maybe, fascinating, definitely.
Eligible voting population: 58,420
Todd McClay (Incumbent National Party)
Tamati Coffey (Labour Party)
Fletcher Tabuteau (New Zealand First)
Lyall Russell (Act Party)
Michael Davidson (Conservative Party)
Eligible voting population/Maori role: 34,042
Candidates: Te Ururoa Flavell (Incumbent Maori Party)
Annette Sykes (Internet-Mana Party)
Rawiri Waititi (Labour Party)
Pat Spellman (NZ Independent Coalition)